Understanding Humanity

A Fresh Look at a 15th Century Manuscript

A Critical View of the Cancionero 1250 of Gómez Manrique

hummanity3Advanced technology gives researchers instant access to the most current news, literature, and scholarly sources on a variety of topics. Increasingly, technology also provides researchers with the opportunity to reach back into history and search through priceless relics. For José Suárez, Ph.D., Professor of Hispanic Studies at UNC, obtaining a digital copy of the 15th-century manuscript of poet Gómez Manrique’s Cancionero 1250 was eventually more useful than holding the original artifact in his hands. This digital copy allowed him to study Manrique’s historically significant work in detail and to complete the research he had started more than 30 years ago.

Dr. Suárez’s research investigates cultural history through an analysis of the linguistic features of the poetry. In his recent work, he transcribed and edited a critical edition of Manrique’s Cancionero 1250, a feat no one had previously accomplished in the 500-year time period since the poems were written. Dr. Suárez’s critical edition includes the Cancionero in its entirety and also an appendix of additional poems not found in the Cancionero, collectively representing Manrique’s complete works. Altogether, Dr. Suárez’s critical edition includes more than 400 poems.hummanity4

The dates of Gómez Manrique’s life are uncertain. He was born sometime around 1412, the fifth of 15 children. His father was Pedro Manrique and his mother was Leonor of Castile, herself the granddaughter of King Henry II. Gómez Manrique blended a love of language with a noble upbringing and ultimately excelled as a court poet. He resided in Toledo, Spain until his death around 1490.

Dr. Suárez explains how the Cancionero demonstrates the evolving nature of the Spanish language in the 1400s. Also common for that era was dedicating poetry to noblemen as a way of currying favor. Manrique dedicated this collection of poems to Rodrigo Pimentel, Count of Benavente, sometime after 1476. The Cancionero opens with a preface in which Manrique dedicated the collection to Pimentel. Most of the poems in Manrique’s collection are light-hearted verses and love poems, although there are a few political statements peppering the book. Dr. Suárez was surprised to discover a number of poems with hateful messages of misogyny and anti-Semitism. He describes these poems as the “ugly part” of Manrique’s collection.

Last summer, Dr. Suárez was able to travel to Spain to examine the original Cancionero 1250 manuscript, which has been in the Royal Palace Library in Madrid for more than 500 years. Most, if not all, of the poems have been published previously, but not this particular Cancionero. Dr. Suárez, wherever possible, modernized the spelling so as to make the poems more accessible to the modern reader of Spanish and also compared this Cancionero to other of Manriquez’s published cancioneros, noting differences in the transcriptions.

Dr. Suárez is especially grateful for the support he has received from UNC to conduct his research. “The university has been very generous, very gracious to me in backing my endeavors,” he said. Because of that, my manuscript is already being vetted, and I’ve been able to work on other publications at the same time. Without university support, I wouldn’t be able to do half [of this work], because I wouldn’t have the time or the feedback from presenting [my papers at international conferences].” Most recently, Dr. Suárez has traveled to Spain, Morocco, Japan, and Argentina to conduct research and share his findings internationally.

De Gómez Manrique a vna dueña

que yua cubierta

El coraçón se me fue donde vuestro vulto vi,

e luego vos conoçí al punto que vos miré;

que no pudo fazer tanto por mucho que vos cubriese

aquel vuestro negro manto que no vos rreconosçiese.


Que debaxo se mostraua

vuestra graçia y gentil ayre,

y el cubrir con buen donayre

todo lo manifestaua;

asy que con mis enojos

e muy grande turbaçión,

allá se fueron mis ojos

do tenía el coraçón.

From Gómez Manrique to a veiled lady

I could no more than scarcely breathe

When you drew on your veil

And hid yourself so well beneath

Your dark cloak’s heavy trail.


But under it your gentle grace

And simple air were seen;

The very masque its charm would trace

And show, instead of screen;

So very great became my care

And trouble that I knew

My heart was swift entangled there

With my enraptured view.

–translated by Thomas Walsh


Hispanic Anthology: Poems Translated from the Spanish by English and North American Poets, collected and arranged by Thomas Walsh. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1920 (p 77).


Reprinted with Permission